Improving on the Best – Lay’s Core Flavours


When you have the best – market leading – products, how do you improve them to stay ahead of the competition?

Background – Market Leaders under threat from Private Label.

Lay’s Potato Chips are the leading brand in nearly every market in which they operate. In many markets they are in the enviable position of dominating market share, commanding a premium price and evoking great consumer loyalty all at the same time. Such market dominance means that they are always the focus of attack by local and international competitors seeking market share with a more premium, a cheaper or a more tightly focused brand identity…

In the UK Walkers Crisps are the local incarnation of Lay’s and dominate the mass market Potato Chips. They do however face strong competition from supermarket own brand crisps with flavours that imitate Walkers core flavours and are cheaper. These private label crisps had gradually been closing the flavour and quality gap between themselves and Walkers, they were now widely regarded as “nearly as good as Walkers” and were taking a greater market share.

Core flavours such as Cheese and Onion, Ready Salted, Salt and Vinegar and Roast Chicken dominate sales and are the key competitive ground. These flavours have significant heritage in the UK market and are loved by their consumers. With modern flavour technology it would be very easy to qualitatively improve these flavours bringing them significantly closer to the flavours that their names suggest, however any attempts to do this had always damaged sales and evoked a flood of consumer complaints asking why Walkers were changing such an iconic flavour.

The Key Question – How do we improve upon the best?

Walkers briefed The Marketing Clinic to help them find greater differentiation from the Private Label competitors that justified their premium price while not upsetting their loyal traditional customer base. “How do we improve upon the best, open up new ground between us and our competitors without losing all those consumers that do not want their favourite product to change?”

The Outcome – Regaining preference and a premium price

We like products because we like the way that they make us feel. Consumers will tell you that they like the flavour or the texture, but what they really mean – if only they knew it – is that they like the way that the flavour and the texture (and in fact the whole consumption experience) changes the way that they feel. It is not just about how they feel after consumption, it is the sensorial and emotional journey that the product has taken them on from the start all the way to the end.

Once we understood the emotional journey that these crisps evoked for UK consumers, and how and why they did this, we found a completely different understanding of how the flavours and textures worked together to induce this emotional journey. We identified ways in which the emotional journey could be enhanced to better match modern and evolving attitudes and some very subtle updates that Walkers could make to their core flavours to make consumers feel even better as they ate them. By improving the consumers’ experience of Walkers Crisps we could open up that competitive gap in a way that consumers barely noticed, and competitors would struggle to understand or copy.

This was not about improving the flavour per-se, it was about improving the consumer experience. It is about using the flavour and the texture as tools to deliver an even better consumer experience. An experience that evokes the right emotional response in the consumer. Just improving the flavour – making it a more accurate representation of its description – would have been relatively easy to do but evoked a negative emotional reaction in the consumer.

Lay’s were so pleased with results from The Marketing Clinic’s findings and recommendations on core flavours in the UK that they immediately asked us to move onto core flavours in their most important market, the US.

The core flavours in the US are BBQ and Sour Cream and Onion. While the detailed competitive issues are different the overall problem was the same. “How do we improve on the best flavours in this market to stay ahead of the competition without upsetting our current loyal consumer base”.

And again, we showed that by viewing the consumption journey as a tool for delivering the ideal emotional journey, rather than being the end in itself, we could make subtle but important changes in flavour that bought this emotional journey more up to date, more appropriate for todays – and tomorrows – consumers and strengthened their competitive position.

We continue to work on Lay’s around the world on flavour and communication projects and are now working on PepsiCo beverages in US and Europe to help maintain their market leading positions.